Apple reveals suppliers' workplace violations

Nathan Pensky · January 13, 2012 · Short URL:

Apple reports workplace violations in deep supply chain, will comply with Fair Labor Association

In an unprecedented volley of supply audits in 2011, Apple has revealed that some of its deep-level suppliers, many of them in China, violate regulations concerning workers' rights. These audits were made in an effort to ferret out the practices of such violations, or so they have been characterized by Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook.

Among the violations practiced by those in its supply chain, including component suppliers and final assembly, as listed in Apple's audit report, there were breaches in pay and benefits for workers, environmental waste and disposal violations, and unsafe machinery.

Apple also found instances of underage workers in five of its suppliers, and subsequently required these suppliers to encourage the young workers to return to school and add age-verification systems to their hiring process. Over 90 factories were found that had workers exceeding 60 hours of work per week, with only one day of rest. Evidence of anti-discrimination rule violation against workers who were pregnant or had Hepatitis B were also found, and Apple made these companies cease such activity.

Apple has indicated that it will cooperate with an independent team from the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which was founded in 1999 by President Bill Clinton, and has conducted similar oversight for companies like Nike and Nestle.

“Most big corporations have their ‘Nike moment’ at some stage, when they realize the difficulties of maintaining their standards, particularly in an increasingly global environment,” said FLA President Auret van Heerden. However, despite van Heerden's belief about "most companies," Apple is the only major tech company to date to be FLA compliant.

One of the company's biggest suppliers, Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group, is at the center of the accusations of poor working conditions, specifically the suicide of 12 workers in Chinese Foxconn factories over the past three years.

Due to pressures from international media and Apple itself, Foxconn more than doubled salaries of workers in 2010. However, only last year explosions occurred at two facilities that supply Apple's iPad production, one of which was a Foxconn factory, where three people were killed and over 70 were injured.

Apple distinguished itself under Steve Jobs as a company that tightly guarded all aspects of production, especially concerning details about the company's inner workings, like supply chain. However, that might all change under Cook's leadership. The high number of supply audits performed under Cook --  229 last year, as opposed to 288 the previous three years combined -- has some speculating that Apple has significantly changed its policy concerning company transparency.

"I would like to make a significant improvement in the overtime area. I would like to totally eliminate every case of underage employment," said Cook to Reuters. "We have done that in all of our final assembly. As we go deeper into the supply chain, we found that age verification system isn't sophisticated enough. This is something we feel very strongly about and we want to eliminate totally."

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